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#2226699 - 02/06/14 12:34 AM Can a piece have too many ideas?
RealPlayer Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/02/03
Posts: 2368
Loc: NYC
Classical pieces here, but may apply to new works as well?

I heard a string quartet on the radio while driving the other day. Never heard it before. There were so many different ideas (motives, turns of phrase, harmonic twists, interruptions and accents, etc.) that it nearly took my breath away. Very original. Surprising.

It turned out to be by Jan Ladislav Dussek.

Then I recalled that it reminded me of one of the Razumovsky quartets of Beethoven, another work where the ideas were coming at you in a barrage, with tons of variety.

In both pieces, I wonder if such works suffer for such abundance. Is it at the expense of structure or other concepts of unity? Just asking in a general way.

Hasn't hurt Beethoven, obviously, though we don't hear much of Dussek any more. (And maybe we should.)


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#2226702 - 02/06/14 12:43 AM Re: Can a piece have too many ideas? [Re: RealPlayer]
Nikolas Online   content
5000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/26/07
Posts: 5634
Loc: Europe
Usually if the different ideas are structurally loose then there's a mess going on. It requires an amazing talent and hard work to make it work!

Could it be that the ideas, however different were based on less ideas, so there was some structure going on, in terms of motives and ideas and accents, etc?

#2226706 - 02/06/14 12:50 AM Re: Can a piece have too many ideas? [Re: RealPlayer]
JoelW Offline
5000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/25/12
Posts: 5032
Loc: USA
Yes, I think too many ideas is a bad thing. How would you like it if you were reading a novel and there was a new character every other page? I think of musical ideas as characters. You have a few and you just develop them throughout the plot.

#2226721 - 02/06/14 01:10 AM Re: Can a piece have too many ideas? [Re: RealPlayer]
Polyphonist Offline
8000 Post Club Member

Registered: 03/03/13
Posts: 8113
Loc: New York City
Beethoven may seem like he's throwing new ideas at you every 5 seconds, but usually they are all derived from a few key motives, which he develops and transforms so that you don't even notice their presence and how they tie all the themes together. That's the genius of Beethoven.


#2226722 - 02/06/14 01:10 AM Re: Can a piece have too many ideas? [Re: RealPlayer]
Ritzycat Offline
Full Member

Registered: 01/11/14
Posts: 164
I'm not anything of an expert on music but I think it can work. I find it typically works best in a negative-sounding piece (I think there is a musical term for that).

Our band played Bukvich's Symphony No. 1 (In Memoriam Dresden, 1945) last year, I think its a good example of very random and twists around every corner, if that's what you mean. It all seems to retain a pretty similar theme though.

I'd imagine such composition is difficult, it's hard to take literally awful sounding crap and putting it together to get something harmonic.

Edited by Ritzycat (02/06/14 01:11 AM)

#2226830 - 02/06/14 08:21 AM Re: Can a piece have too many ideas? [Re: RealPlayer]
wr Offline
8000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/23/07
Posts: 8195
Originally Posted By: RealPlayer

In both pieces, I wonder if such works suffer for such abundance. Is it at the expense of structure or other concepts of unity? Just asking in a general way.

To me, that kind of abundance of ideas is only at the expense of structure or other concepts of unity if the composer was aiming for some particular kind of structure or unity, and failed to some degree. But what if ideas of structure and unity aren't really all that high on the composer's priorities for the piece? They don't have to be, even in the Classical era.

A good chunk of C.P.E. Bach's music (familiar to Beethoven, and probably to Dussek too) seems almost bursting with ideas and rapid shifts, too. Surprise seems to be a primary esthetic value in some of his music. I think that was part of the trend towards hyper-expressive music in his day, and it makes sense to me that some of his concepts and techniques would have still been known to composers like Beethoven and Dussek, and used by them when they wanted to knock the socks off their audience. Total speculation on my part, but I think it makes some sense.

Getting back to more general stuff - music that is saturated with ideas can be very hard for a composer to shape into something that "makes sense", I think. And I think, having heard and played through some Dussek, that he had some problems keeping a grip on his materials. But to me, it's not that he had too many ideas, but that he lacked a certain maniacal focus, aka "genius", that Beethoven did have. Still, he's an interesting composer, Dussek is.

#2226897 - 02/06/14 11:06 AM Re: Can a piece have too many ideas? [Re: RealPlayer]
RealPlayer Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/02/03
Posts: 2368
Loc: NYC
Good responses, thank you.

I learned that Dussek and Beethoven were almost-contemporaries, and Dussek was one of the composers whose work Beethoven knew.

It did strike me that that Razumovsky quartet wasn't all that tightly written. But it was a one-time listen over the radio. Most Beethoven seems to me much more focused in content and development. For both these works, repeat listenings may reveal different things, result in different assessments.

I'm going to try to listen to more Dussek too. When I read through some piano works years ago, they did seem interesting yet unfocused. The quartet had more going for it, and the sonata form did lend unity. I was intrigued.

wr, that was an interesting point about C.P.E. Bach, whose music I don't know except for a couple of freewheeling keyboard fantasias. It really could have been part of an aesthetic to use a plethora of ideas.

I guess part of my interest in this topic is that the far more common complaint is that some music has too FEW ideas, or isn't creative enough. So it's interesting to me to explore the opposite pole.

Edited by RealPlayer (02/06/14 11:58 AM)


#2230336 - 02/12/14 12:34 PM Re: Can a piece have too many ideas? [Re: RealPlayer]
Herr Weiss Online   content
Full Member

Registered: 12/26/12
Posts: 235
Loc: New York, N.Y.
We mere mortals should stay away from putting too many ideas(motifs)in one "basket". It is wise to spread them around to other compositions. A good melodic line doesn't come along everyday, I'll say.

Just my 2 cents.


Edited by Herr Weiss (02/12/14 12:36 PM)

"Respond intelligently, even to unintelligent treatment."
-Lao Tzu


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